Heinrich, Grijalva Introduce Bills To Elevate Role Of Tribal Nations, Protect Tribal Cultural Sites In Public Land Management

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) introduced two bicameral bills to advance Tribal management of public lands and to improve protection of sacred and cultural sites. The Advancing Tribal Parity on Public Land Act and the Tribal Cultural Areas Protection Act would update current public land management laws to improve protections of Indigenous sacred sites and other cultural areas. 

“It is long overdue that we recognize that Tribes across Indian Country have ancestral sites, historical ecological knowledge, and ongoing cultural practices on our federal public lands. I’m proud to introduce these two bills to create a Tribal Cultural Areas System specifically tailored to protect Tribal cultural resources and to finally correct long-running holes in our federal laws that have put sovereign Tribal Nations on an unequal footing with State and Local governments in acquiring and managing our public lands,” said Heinrich, member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “It’s past time to end the era of land management agencies conducting Tribal consultation just to check a box. The federal government has a responsibility to communicate with and provide Tribal governments with a real seat at the table. These bills help deliver on the promise to respect Tribal sovereignty and increase protections for the culture and traditions in the ancestral homelands of Tribal Nations.”

“There is no deed that can undo or fully compensate for this country’s historical neglect and desecration of Indigenous Peoples’ culture and places that are sacred to them,” said Grijalva, Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee. “But that doesn’t mean that we should simply sit back and let history continue repeating itself. These two bills are a small step, but an important one, in giving Tribal nations the respect and authority they deserve when it comes to managing our public lands and protecting sacred and cultural sites.” 

The vast majority of federal public lands are carved out of the ancestral homelands of Tribal nations. Despite forced removal and displacement from these traditional territories, Tribes’ cultural connections to these places have never been extinguished. Tribal nations and their citizens continue to exercise treaty and statutory rights to hunt, fish, and gather on federal lands. They continue to access federal lands to pray, conduct ceremonies, visit burial sites, and gather plants for traditional purposes.

Tribal governments and their citizens currently maintain rights to hunt and gather, pray, conduct ceremonies, and visit burial sites on public lands, but public land management laws fail to adequately protect these rights and interests. For example, public land on which a Tribal nation has a treaty right or sacred site may still be sold to private developers who could permanently destroy the site. In other cases, there may not be adequate resources in place to prevent theft or vandalism of cultural items or sacred sites.

The Advancing Tribal Parity on Public Land Act will:

  • Prohibit the sale of public land containing a Tribal cultural site, where a Tribal nation retains treaty or other reserved rights, or that contains a former reservation.
  • Authorize Tribal governments to acquire public lands for public purposes.
  • Increase Tribal consultation in public land use planning.
  • Requires the consideration of the presence of cultural sites and fulfillment of treaty obligations in federal land acquisition decisions.
  • Require existing public land advisory boards to include at least one Tribal representative.

The Tribal Cultural Areas Protection Act will:

  • Establish a national Tribal Cultural Areas System to designate public lands with culturally significant sites. Tribal cultural areas would be managed to preserve their cultural values while allowing for traditional Tribal cultural use.
  • Direct public land management agencies to identify potential Tribal cultural areas.
  • Provide authority to Tribal nations in the management of Tribal cultural areas.

Combined, the two bills have already gained the support of a dozen Tribal nations, several Tribal organizations, including the National Congress of American Indians and the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, and the Wilderness Society.

The full text of the Advancing Tribal Parity on Public Land Act is available here. The full text of the Tribal Cultural Areas Protection Act is available here

Statements of Support from Tribal Organizations

National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (NATHPO):

“NATHPO is hopeful about the prospects of these bills to close some gaps in the current framework for protecting Native places. The foundations of indigenous cultures are literally grounded in places from which they have been systematically disconnected. These bills can be an important step revitalizing connections, languages, and practices upon which Native peoples’ health and vitality depend. We’re talking about healing trauma through reclaiming place.” 

Judith Le Blanc (Caddo), Executive Director, Native Organizers Alliance:

“Federal Land Management Laws are failing to protect sacred sites and Native land. As Native people, we have an inherent right to the freedom of our religions, belief systems, and traditional ways of life. We must act now to ensure Tribal Nations have the ability to protect, co-manage, and prevent the further degradation of these sites by passing the Advancing Tribal Parity on Public Lands Act and the Tribal Cultural Areas Protection Act. Native Organizers Alliance fully supports this landmark legislation and stands together with Chair Grijalva and Senator Heinrich so that future generations can experience the beauty of the places that nurtured the first peoples of this land.”

William Snell, Executive Director, Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council:

“It is more important now than ever before for Congress to protect tribal cultural sites on public lands, and to ensure that tribes have an adequate say in the management of those sites. We support the Advancing Tribal Parity on Public Lands Act and Tribal Cultural Areas Protection Act, and thank Chairman Grijalva and Sen. Heinrich for introducing these important bills.”

Statements of Support from Tribal Historic Preservation Officers

John Murray, Blackfeet Nation:

“The Blackfeet Nation supports the protection of all Tribal cultural sites and we support the Advancing Tribal Parity on Public Lands Act and Tribal Cultural Areas Protection Act. These are important bills, and we appreciate the leadership of Chairman Grijalva and Sen. Heinrich in introducing them.”

Aaron Brien, Apsaalooke Nation:

“The Apsaalooke nation recognizes the need for Congress to act on protecting tribal cultural sites on public lands and making sure that Tribes have an adequate say in the management of those sites. We support the Advancing Tribal Parity on Public Lands Act and Tribal Cultural Areas Protection Act, and thank Chairman Grijalva and Sen. Heinrich for introducing these important bills.”

Sunshine Bear, Winnebago Nation:

“The Winnebago Nation has long advocated for the protection of Tribal cultural sites and for Tribes asserting more control over the management of those sites. House Chairman Grijalva and Sen. Heinrich recognize the importance of passing legislation that will do both of those things, and we support their leadership in introducing the Advancing Tribal Parity on Public Lands Act and Tribal Cultural Areas Protection Act.”

Teanna Limpy, Northern Cheyenne Nation:

“The Northern Cheyenne Nation stands in solidarity with Indigenous Nations across Turtle Island in supporting the Advancing Tribal Parity on Public Lands Act and the Tribal Cultural Areas Protection Act. We appreciate the leadership demonstrated by Chairman Grijalva and Sen. Heinrich for introducing these important bills.”